The musical genre of polka often invokes a serious case of the giggles (just ask Weird Al). Yet despite its whimsical nature, the dance has a rich history, and is one of the few remaining dances from the 19th century that is still practiced widely today.
Depending on which polka historian you ask, the origin of the spirited dance varies. Some believe that it was invented in the 1830s by a Czechoslovakian peasant girl, while others claim the dance originated in Poland. Regardless of its derivation, the boisterously upbeat dance and its accompanying music quickly gained popularity in Eastern Europe, and soon found its way to ballrooms in Paris, England and Germany.
When the masses of European immigrants made their way to Ellis Island, the polka came with them.
And it’s still alive and well today.
Your chance to check it out awaits at the 28 annual Summer Music Fest in Frankenmuth, a nine-day celebration of food, drink, and more polka than you can shake a bratwurst at.
The fete kicks off this Friday, Aug. 13, boasting more than 26 polka bands, from Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Texas, and our own Mitten State (among them: Detroit-area Big Daddy Marshall Lackowski) and a handful of Christian contemporary and gospel music groups.
Jimmy Sturr, a native of Florida, N.Y., has a whopping 14 Grammys under his belt (yes, the Grammys actually have a category for polka), which, by most measures, puts him in the category of “polka superstar.” His latest album, Rock ‘n Polka consists of all polka covers of early ’60s rock tunes like “Splish Splash” and “Dream Lover.”
Although many think polka fans consist of the elderly and those of Polish descent, Sturr says the modern polka audience is very diverse.
“It’s anywhere from 8 to 80,” he says of the age demographic.
He also says the dance is easy to learn.
“The best way to learn is to go to a festival like this,” says Sturr. “Believe me, whether you’re not a polka fan or you are, if you go to some place like this you’ll get hooked on the music.”
The Summer Music Fest starts Friday and runs until Aug. 21 in Frankenmuth, Mich. For a complete schedule, visit frankenmuthfestivals.com or call 800-FUN-FEST. Sarah Klein is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org